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April 27, 2006

Click.TV Pitch Program Is Public Relations Not Blogger Relations

Shel Holtz wrote a post recently about the work he is doing for click.TV in the blogging world, "blogger relations for click.TV," Shel described the blogger outreach program he is running for the company.

Language has a lot of nuances, and so many people may probably think I quibble here. I think the Click.TV program Shel describes is a pitch or product review program, as the process of sending emails to pitch the company is public relations rather than blogger relations. I'd suggest another definition for the term blogger relations. Here's my post, "Blogger Relations Is Not Media Relations For Bloggers," and discussion with Andy Abramson about the definition:

Blogger relations is not media relations for bloggers. Even though some would define the term that way, I don't. I don't perceive blogger relations to be the process of connecting with bloggers to pitch a story or interview. That to me is traditional PR or media relations. Rather blogger relations is the process of connecting with peers and your audience to develop relevant content that illustrates your message and brand through content and responsiveness.

Andy Abramson and I had a discussion about his Nokia product review program in this post when I reviewed his program earlier this year on the blogsurvey blog.

Part of the reason why I keep on returning to the issue of the definition of blogger relations is that I think by using my definition it helps bloggers and PR people. I think that blogging is not just a domain for PR professionals, though I think Internet marketing and blogging owe and can learn a lot from the PR profession. To me blogging is something entirely new, yet also a combination of PR, SEO, marketing, writing, journalism, product marketing, customer service and many more disciplines. In fact many of the original bloggers were not PR professionals or are even PR professionals today.

To be successful at blogging I think you have to focus on conversation rather than selling or pitching other bloggers. By keeping pitching in the realm of PR rather than BR, companies will help to highlight the importance of conversation within the discipline of blogger relations rather than thinking of blogging as only being a PR tool. I am not saying PR is bad, but I think it helps both professions if we clarify what you need to do to conduct an effective corporate blogging campaign. In my book pitching a product review does not make an effective blogger relations campaign, I think its PR, I do think it's a great way to get the word out about products and services, but to me its not blogger relations (BR).

A critique of my point of view would be that if someone reviews cameras or telephones on their blog, that blogger would like to receive products from companies about their latest product or service.

In most cases I think that's true, but sending a product to a blogger is not the same as discussing the relative merits or problems of a product with the blogger, or having an open dialogue about the product. That's where Andy Abramson's work with the Nokia product review program does enter the realm of blogger relations. Andy studiously cited and linked to every mention of blogger entries about the Nokia phones, both positive and negative. That aspect of the Nokia product review program I do consider to be a good blogger relations program.

Shel discussed the issue of whether its okay for a PR professional to contact a blogger on behalf of a client in the April 17th 2005 FIR podcast. I agree with both Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson that is okay for a PR professional to pitch a blogger. And I also agree that it's important for any PR professional to write a good pitch. But to me a pitch from a PR person or for that matter a blogger is PR not blogger relations.

Thanks Neville for including my definition in your post, "Blogger relations the right way," and highlighting the program. I look forward to hearing more about Shel's PR and BR program with click.TV.

Posted by johncass at April 27, 2006 11:35 AM

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The reason I characterize this as a Blogger Relations Program, John, is that I approached it differently than I would a media pitch based on characteristics of the blogosphere. Each email was personalized; there were no blasts of email to anybody. Each email was based on what I knew about the blogger. I had no direct message I was seeking the participants in the program to publish; I just wanted to offer awareness and provide access to the product so they could do and/or write anything they wished -- or nothing at all. And, of course, it was focused specifically on bloggers. But in the end, the goal IS to stimulate conversation around videos that participants will create and post themselves, something that could never happen in a media relations effort.

Hope that clarifies...

Posted by: Shel Holtz at April 27, 2006 2:32 PM

Hmmm.. I'd have to look at your emails. But I was wondering if you considered them pitches. That's how I thought you described your click.TV campaign in the podcast.

I think your practice in this case sounded great and the right course of action. Good solid public relations tactics and strategy.

But I respectfully think that what you were doing was PR rather than blogger relations. I don't expect you or anyone else to necessarily agree with me on this point, and it might be that my definition does not hold up in the court of public opinion. Which is okay. Maybe we should chat about this as text sometimes loses some of the nuances.

After all any good PR professional would take the same steps in pitching their client's product to professional journalists. The PR professional would read some of the journalist's articles before sending an email or calling to check the journalist would be interested in writing about the review. And the PR person would send a personal email. To me whether sent to bloggers or journalists such communications are public relations. Though I will say that when the world invented the term media relations it made sense to describe the process of pitching to people in the media as building a relationship with them. Precisely because there was no mechanism to connect directly with the media other than PR techniques I want to highlight how I define the term.

It's that opportunity to have a conversation with a blogger even if the blogger is a journalist through a blog that distinguishes the new profession of blogger relations. The open nature of that communication puts constraints and opens up opportunities for both participants. While in the traditional setting of media relations you would never see a PR professional critiquing a journalist, or in some cases bothering to answer a minor question. With blogging there are some new rules. I think it's helpful to companies to distinguish between the two terms.

To me blogger relations is what you and I are doing now discussing a topic through the medium of a blog.

I know this is a matter of semantics, but I genuinely believe that there are benefits to the professions of blogging and public relations if we separate the two activities. I came to blog about corporate blogging through the Internet marketing industry, and found myself in the PR blogosphere community because everyone in that community talks about the issues I share the same passion for, corporate blogging! But I think PR is not the only profession that has given its expertise to the profession of blogger relations. And many PR bloggers would give advice to their clients to approach blogging authentically, focusing on conversation rather than marketing or PR. That's the reason why I distinguish between the two terms.

Chuck Tanowitz might have an even better definition, that of open communications. I just don't think that term will catch on as well at blogger relations.

Good post and podcast by the way, I think the click.TV technology looks really cool.

Posted by: John Cass at April 27, 2006 3:11 PM

I'll chew on this, John. I would have thought what you and I were doing here was a simple conversation; there is no program element to it. A blogger relations program, as I have viewed it, is a component of PR, given my definition of PR as the strategic, coordinated effort to manage the process by which an organization engages and communicates with its various constituent publics. Bloggers are a public, same as media, government, activists, customers, employees, shareholders, analysts, local communities, the list goes on. Each public is unique in its characteristics and concerns. Bad PR blasts press releases out to handle all of them. Good PR recognizes the nuances and approaches them in ways that will achieve planned and measurable objectives.

I suppose I could come up with a new term for it, but hell, we haven't even settled on vidcasting or vlogging or video blogging or video blogging...

In any case, if I, in the course of this comment, asked you for a favor, that might be considered a pitch, too. Are the two mutually exclusive?

I also wonder if you think Andy Abramson's Nokia n90 blogger relations effort (his term) was not a blogger relations effort? Or even Edelman's ill-fated Wal*Mart experiment?

I do believe my effort was designed to inspire conversation, and I have had several with the individuals who have responded to my initial query...and hope to have many more. I also hope to inspire them to have conversations among themselves, although this hasn't happened yet. Alas, I am behind in producing an update on the effort. I have, I'm afraid, been preoccupied by blog trolls.

In any case, I'm glad you like Click.TV. My enthusiasm for it is the primary reason I took on the assignment -- the first time I've ever worked with a startup or a small company. (My usual client base is Fortune 1000.) If you have a video you'd like to apply to it, let me know; I'm sure I can make arrangements for you to try it out.

Posted by: Shel Holtz at April 28, 2006 12:02 AM

Yes I agree that our discussion is a conversation, the purpose of which is I hope to understand each other's perspectives, and hopefully to learn from each other. A real conversation is what blogging is all about. I think that companies will not succeed with blogging unless their bloggers understand it's more important to build a connection with an audience rather than trying to sell the reader something. Which is the irony I suppose by not selling you succeed in promoting your brand.

Companies have different goals for blogging, including thought leadership, customer service, product development and more. Some companies have all of the above as their goals for blogging. Product development is definitely not PR, and that's just one reason I think effective blogger relations goes beyond PR.

Blogging amazes me because companies can implement the marketing concept fully, and through the process of getting feedback from customers actually gain promotional benefits. I define the marketing concept to be the process of understanding the needs and wants of a customer and satisfying those needs efficiently and profitably. If companies are using blogging for many goals, how then can we define blogger relations just to be the sole strategy of PR? If I can go further, would you include product marketing in the definition of PR? How do we as an industry reconcile the contributions and benefits of blogging for companies when its implementation has been so much more than PR? See the Backbone Media Corporate blogging case studies for illustrations.

I've always thought that PR provides so much to the discipline of blogging and one reason I tend to hang out in the PR community blogosphere. My article "PR - The next internet revolution," written in September of 2003 hopefully illustrates why I never forget the huge debt blogging owes to the older sibling of public relations. PR people get the whole conversation idea; the strategy is in their blood.

Your right about the relevance of words, I think my insistence on the difference comes from a concern that people will perceive blogging to be just PR. Again there's nothing wrong with PR, I just think that blogging as PR and much more.

I've review Andy Abramson's Nokia n90 campaign previously and I see the program both a good PR effort and a good blogger relations program. Andy developed a traditional product review program. He sent out letters to the participants involved. That program is PR; he called it a blogger relations program because instead of contacting journalists in the traditional media he contacted bloggers. He was using the term blogger relations in the same way that we now use the term media relations. In some ways blogger relations is a good term to use for a description of how Andy connected with the bloggers who reviewed the Nokia phone. I define blogger relations differently. But if we use the term in this way, that's exactly how society will define blogger relations. Society may have missed the biggest element of blogging that results are produced from simple conversations rather than promotional efforts.

I come to blogging from the search engine optimization industry. Good search engine advice parallels good PR advice; have the right story to tell your audience and they will be interested and come back for more. There are three factors to getting a high ranking in search engines, relevant content, links and building a website that's accessible by search engines. Provide good content that interesting and relevant to your audience and you will get higher rankings. The secret of building the most relevant websites on the planet is why sites like wikipedia and work so well, there's a cheap (free) mechanism for generating content, and the multiple authors and audience link back to that content. And why those sites have high rankings for high volume and obscure terms a like.

I can contrast a company's efforts to get a high ranking on the organic section of a search engine with buying pay per click ads on Google Adwords. Often the goal of a PPC campaign is to get sales leads, and the strategy to get leads is by paying ads on Google. The goal and strategy are very similar.

In contrast with organic search engine optimization, the goal may still be sales, but the strategy is different, develop relevant content. As an industry good SEO marketing people understand it's more important to develop relevant content for your audience than trying to sell to them immediately that produces high rankings. That's why blogging is such a natural for the SEO industry; many of the industry's practitioners were already helping their clients to build content relevant websites. If SEO is such a natural for blogging, why don't we call blogger relations an SEO tactic? I would not by the way. :-) Again to me SEO like PR is part of blogger relations and includes many more disciplines.

Andy Abramson's Nokia n90 blogger relations campaign succeeded because he targeted those people who were most interested in the cell phone. Yet Andy did something beyond the initial connection, he continued the conversation, with complete transparency. He wrote blog posts about every mention of his campaign good or bad, and linked back to all blog posts. He even commented on the other bloggers entries good or bad. That element of the campaign, the conversation was where Andy was conducting effective blogger relations, but his initial program was public relations.

Regarding your request for a favor, that depends on whether your want to borrow a book or have me link to one of your client's sites. :-)

Click.TV is lucky to have such a passionate proponent working for them. Your efforts do inspire further conversation because you described the relevancy of their service to you. But again I think there is a difference between highlighting a company within the context of a conversation within your community and actively pitching community members about a new product. To me one is effective blogger relations and the other is public relations. I hasten to add that there's nothing wrong with either approach.

Lastly, let me think about the video, I'd probably pick something from one of the Mars trips from NASA. It would be interesting to get geologists to comment on the video with their views about the images.

Posted by: johncass at April 28, 2006 10:33 AM

We're in absolute agreement, John. It's really a matter of semantics. I fear that "blogger relations program" has already assumed the meaning that Andy and I have ascribed to it, which (if memory serves) I picked up from other writing. By all means, though, fight the good fight against it before it assumes the mantle of common usage. I still hate the word "page" as in "web page," because it's not. I'll never win that fight, but I'll keep on fighting anyway.

Posted by: Shel Holtz at April 29, 2006 5:49 PM

What word or phrase do you use instead of page for different sections within a website?

I think the process of blogger relations as I define the term is something new in the field of business communications. If we did not use the BR term for that definition how should we define that process?

I think its a matter of having the term mean both the process of contacting bloggers to pitch a company and to have a discussion with another blogger.

Posted by: John Cass at May 1, 2006 9:03 AM

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